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Matthew-GuenetteFirst Takes with Matthew
Guenette: Rebecca Hazelton

1) If sadness is the star of these poems…

Then it is sadness made beautiful. Look closely at what these poems describe: the arrangement of details will attend to the relationship of distances between objects in motion, bodies in flux. But these distances are not some other’s sadness, they are the otherness of a sadness embodied in us all—the sadness we feel falling in and out of love, sadness for what we must shed in order to grow—a sadness not to dance to, but with…

2) If the problem is to bring abstraction to life…

Then it is exquisitely solved in these poems. Look at that first turn in “Animal Heart”:

...winter is over the lock has tumbled open
and tumbling are the blossoms and the girls’ skirts
on the promenade like flags of countries
I want to visit. What I’ve known
in my body is my body smaller in hands larger,

The exterior scene in those opening lines, described with clear-eyed precision, is the external trigger, shifting the poem to an “I”—our narrator—and then to the interior state of our narrator’s thoughts. How should we read those thoughts—that sublime image of the narrator in larger hands, those hands holding something smaller than expected? A reader will have to decide, but I would imagine some possible interpretations have already been proffered in that opening description, in the feelings evoked between:

...the cars carving the highway from the white, and today
the blowsy peony, rose imposter, today
today the river runs again and over…

The choice to begin the poem with description in order to ease us into the poem’s complex meditation effectively catches us inside the poem. The only way out from here is to go forward, but we have already been skillfully guided this far.

3) If you ever had a writing teacher say, Tell your reader what you are going to say, then say it

Then these poems will untether that philosophy. Not until the last line of these poems will you feel the situation has been revealed. And it is precisely this late reveal that gives the reader a reason to read, to feel in full measure for instance the lyrical intensity of that final word in “Actual Animals”: dumb. Thus these poems enact beautifully the struggles, both emotionally and physically, that precede realization. But none of that matters very much just yet. Dear readers, do your poetry jones a favor: appreciate the choices Rebecca Hazelton has made in these fine poems and get ready to follow a compelling new voice in American poetry.


Rebecca-HazeltonRebecca Hazelton attended The University of Notre Dame for her MFA in poetry, and completed her PhD at Florida State University. She was awarded a fellowship year as the Jay C. and Ruth Hall Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Creative Writing Institute, and also received a fellowship from Vermont Studio Center. Hazelton teaches creative writing at Beloit College. D.A. Powell chose her poem "Book of Janus" for inclusion in Best New Poets 2011.